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It just isn’t summer without camp



Friday marks the first official beginning of summer.  Each year over six million American children participate in some sort of day or overnight camp each year. Many of these camps are nonprofit organizations. Camp is a summer ritual for many and for other young students an opportunity for reinvention. To show up without past labels, to be at a place where no one knows who you are but who they see. That reinvention also allows children to feel great about themselves, after being away from home and independent for a few days or weeks.  This generation is connected via devices but not authentically connected and camp gives these students a place to unplug and actually make real authentic connections.

As many of you know, I did not go to camp as a child but my day job is running a non-profit youth leadership organization, which also has a summer camp program. We have incredible high school and college students volunteering to serve as camp counselors and mentors. Many counselors are alumni of our program and want to give back to an organization that changed their lives.  Students teaching students to be the best of themselves. Showing one another respect, how to learn from different opinions, and how to work together towards a resolution. Ultimately, teaching students how to lead.


Tomorrow, I will happily be greeting hundreds of smiling faces as our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders arrive with their nervous parents. For some, it will be their first time away from home.   It is such a great feeling to bring everyone together. There is no greater joy than knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself and that your work makes a difference. This video below from one of our students a few years back, pretty much says it all.

Nothing brings greater joy than planting the seeds of compassion in these incredible students year after year.  When the world seems to get a bit crazier, these students give me hope. I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope. As one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world...”

Charity Matters.




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How to serve up community service

I get asked all the time, “How do I get my children involved in service?”  It is a question that has more than a few answers because it is a process and not always a simple answer.  I was so excited when my friend, author and college admissions expert Dr. Cynthia Colon, asked me to join her podcast to discuss the topic on her podcast Destination Youniversity about the topic. You can listen to the conversation below or share with a friend who has high school age students or anyone looking to volunteer and doesn’t know where to start.

Dr. Cynthia Colon and I met a decade ago when she was a high school principal after leaving her job as head of admissions at Vassar. During her years running high schools she watched many families being overwhelmed by the college admissions process and as a first generation college student in her own family, she decided to switch gears to help.

Since that time, she has authored two books on the process: Tips, Tales and Truths for Teens and Be Committed, Get Admitted. Cynthia is a dynamo who is on a mission to help families and students navigate the very challenging college admissions process. Today, Cynthia helps families, students one on one with their college applications and hosts workshops on the topic. If you are beginning the college search process definitly check out her website here.

Dr. Colon tells her families and students that one of the things that schools look for in applicants is volunteer and leadership experience.  So I loved sharing a few tips on where to begin with your teens. Finding your child’s gifts and interests and pursuing those in the nonprofit space. We also talked about a number of amazing resources for starting out your volunteering experience and the best way to maximize those opportunities for your child and the organization they are serving.

There are so many resources today to connect you or someone you know to a cause they care about. It is just about knowing a few great places to get started. Connecting people and causes is truly one of my favorite things to do, so I’m excited to share this conversation and hope you enjoy it as much as we did!





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Season Six Premiere: Riley’s Way

Welcome to the Season Six premiere of the Charity Matters Podcast. I am thrilled that Season Six is here and with it comes an entire new group of modern day heroes that we can not wait to introduce you to. Today’s guest is not your average nonprofit founder, not that anyone who sets out to make the world better is average…It is unusual for most of our guests to have a full time day job in addition to a nonprofit. When you hear his remarkable story you will understand.

Please join us for an inspirational conversation from our guest Ian Sandler. Learn as Ian shares the heartbreaking story behind the creation of Riley’s Way and the beautiful lasting legacy he has created to honor his beloved daughter.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Riley’s Way does?

Ian Sandler: Riley’s Way is a national nonprofit that invests in supporting the next generation of confident leaders. We provide young people with leadership training, coaching, funding and the community that they need to thrive, to develop into kind leaders and to make a difference in the world. So we work with emerging leaders, ages 13 to 22, who’ve started Social Impact organizations in areas like food insecurity, homelessness, equity, and education and environmental justice all through the lens of kindness, empathy, and human connection. And to date, we’ve supported more than 3000 young people across the country with over $2 million in grants and programs.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Riley’s Way?

Ian Sandler: Riley Hannah Sandler was our first child or our eldest daughter.  She was a magical young girl who loved more than anything to connect her friends. Riley would get excited when we would go out for dinner because that meant a babysitter and a chance to make a new friend.  She would talk about her friends accomplishments, you know, my friend got second place in a swim meet or got a lead role in the play as if it was her own accomplishment. She was so happy and so proud.

We found ourselves in a horrible situation where Riley had gone off for her first year of sleep-away camp.  She was having the summer of her life.  We ended up getting a phone call in the middle of the night, the night before she was supposed to come back from camp. And you just can’t make this stuff up, got a phone call, saying you need to get to the hospital. We took a four hour Uber and by the time I’d gotten to the hospital, Riley was gone.

It was just a case of her being too far from a hospital when she had gotten sick, and her throat had closed on her. We found ourselves in this just unfathomable situation. We just weren’t prepared to let this little girl who was gonna have a huge impact on the world…. we weren’t in a position to say we’re gonna say goodbye and we’re gonna let her light go out. And so we started Riley’s Way that day. So on August 18th, nine years ago, we actually started Riley’s Way in the hospital that day.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in A family that modeled charity or volunteered?

Ian Sandler:  My late father was from South Africa. He came over here to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics, and came over with nothing. He started companies his whole life and was very, very involved in philanthropy from an early time in this country.My father was one of the people who created the Birthright program.  I actually think the numbers like 800,000 people have actually participated in The BirthRight program.

I lost my dad when he was 64, to stomach cancer. Before this whole notion of kind leadership, my dad was the guy  we couldn’t get home for dinner because he was stopping and talking to everybody at this company about what’s going on with them. He always taught me you can learn something from someone else. What I was able to take from seeing the impact he had between his philanthropic work and entrepreneurial work,  it really taught me the impact you can have, if you just kind of go at something, and you don’t stop.

And so the really amazing thing about Riley’s Way is we started it nine years ago, we didn’t know what we’re gonna do. We had just got a great group of people who loved Riley and my family. And we kept going at it. For us as a family,  it’s just our way to show our daughter how much we love her. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ian Sandler: I’m lucky that my career has always been as a business builder. I’ve been a chief operating officer for technology at Morgan Stanley, and then at the Carlyle Group. So what I’m good at is finding people who are really good at things and putting them together. What I truly love doing is building and scaling. We just found great people, each individual is more spectacular than the next. We have now nine full time staff which would have given me a heart attack in 2016 or 2017 when we were starting.

Riley’s Way is a youth led organization. What that means is we have our teams on our board, they do the bulk of our interviewing when we hire people, they do the bulk of our judging and so the very work we do on a day to day basis. And what we found is if you just give our youth teams this opportunity to work with one another, give them scaffolding and support, and let them figure things out.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Ian Sandler: When you ask what fuels me, it’s a combination of things, right? It’s being a dad and Ruby knows so much more about her sister Riley than she ever would because of this work, so that’s super meaningful to us. Then you get exposed to these incredible teams, and you see what they’re doing. And you’re able to see the beauty of the work we do in nonprofit land.

When one of our team’s programs is successful, that is joy. And that is our overarching goal, taking the world out 30 or 40 years, and just instilling kind leaders everywhere. So  that’s it. It’s fuel from all this time with these incredible change makers and seeing the way they’re going to go out into the world and look at everything in a different way than they perhaps otherwise would. It just instills in this theory of change, which is Riley’s vision of  having kind friends everywhere. So that’s what we’re shooting for. And we’re gonna keep going.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and what your impact has been? 

Ian Sandler:  We have served 3000 students in terms of our programming and given out more than $2 million in grants and programs and that’s that’s really powerful. And yet it’s a lot of  very individual stories. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Ian Sandler:  I want Riley’s Way to be synonymous with the most impactful philanthropic organizations on the planet.  We already think we’ve got it right with these next generation of kind leaders. We think we have the next fortune 500 CEOs, the next the senators, the next teachers, the next doctors, we need these folks everywhere. You need this approach to kind leadership so that you can really counterbalance this incredibly divisive landscape.  We need to get back to this notion of community that we look out for one another, we look out for our planet and we really have to think about this in a much different way. 

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Ian Sandler: I lost my dad and I was like well, this is gonna be my life’s challenge, and I’m gonna rise above it. Then losing Riley. And I was like I don’t know how I’m supposed to do all of this. And yet the paradox in everything is, I feel like I’m able to just recognize what really does matter.  Being surrounded by people you love and making an impact in people’s lives. 

What I’m able to realize nine years into this is just what matters in life. All these things that I used to think were worries, were not. Don’t overthink it, because life’s gonna throw so much stuff at you. And by the way, that really starts with yourself. You can’t be good to your family, to your friends, to your colleagues,  if you’re not in a good place.  You have to figure out what that recipe is so that you can then go out and shine for others.  I definitely try to do one thing every day that is just purely joyful for me. And I kind of just float through life as a result of all this. So much of it is just the love and the joy we get from this work and community.  And knowing that you’re working for a purpose…I really do feel like I’ve found my life’s purpose.




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Episode 27: The Pollination Project

I have to confess, I have never been on a dating site. Recently, one of my team suggested a site called PodMatch. While not a dating app, rather an app for connecting podcasters and guests. I admit, I was skeptical but willing to try. Through the most unexpected and roundabout way I had the privilege of being connected to today’s amazing guest, Ariel Nessel the founder of The Pollination Project.

Ariel is a successful real estate developer by day, a practicing yogi and an inspirational human being. You are not going to want to miss this incredible conversation about what inspired Ari to rethink philanthropy and create  The Pollination Project.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Pollination Project does?

Ariel Nessel: When you think about what is the most synergistic form of relationship in the world, people often point to pollination.  The reason is because  you can’t have a distinction between who is giving and who’s receiving in that relationship. That’s where the name, The Pollination Project, oriented from.  Like our name, pollination is a process that starts out small but has a huge impact.  Our theory of change is that we work on small grants. We are supporting individual changemakers  who feel a unique calling to be of service in the world.

Our grantees do this work on the basis of volunteerism, as opposed to a place of occupation. We’ve given out over 4000 grants and  most of the grants are $1,000 each. We also provide service to support our grantees in their unfolding journey of service. We’ve placed grants into over 120 countries. The commonality of all the things is that we are creating something that develops more compassion in the world. Compassion, for me, is defined as the longing to reduce the suffering of others.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The POLLINATION Project?

Ariel Nessel: I’ve been active in philanthropy,  before founding The Pollination Project, as an as an advocate for things that I really cared about. Through that process I started giving and contributing to different groups that I thought were doing really good work in the world. My journey of philanthropy deepened but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I would have liked. I was writing bigger and bigger checks but I wasn’t feeling nourished inside by a bigger check.  It was the intimacy I had with philanthropy that felt like a cog in the wheel.  I felt like there was so much more to offer than financial capital.

So what came up for me was this question of how can I expand what I’m calling to offer? How can I feel more engaged in the world than a few minutes being generous, financially?   How can I support and nurture and empower the most good from people? What came out of that was this idea that there’s probably some other people who want to do good in the world.  How do we find those people, make them and acknowledge them? Then, how do we make them move from that point, too wouldn’t it be great if I did something about that?

So the idea that came out of it was to give one grant a day.  Picking a whole network of people to work with in different movements who are asking these questions for themselves. Then to figure out which of those people are at the right point in their unfolding path to to be resourced with these grants to do something in the world. That became The Pollination Project.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ariel Nessel:  There have been myriad challenges along the way. Early on, it was the question of how do we find these people? You want to give a grant every day, you want to find good people. So how do we locate those people? Further down as it was unfolding, became how do we provide more than money? What is it that people really need? Other problems, that came up were questions like how do we change the focus for our grantees? We wanted to know who they become by accomplishing their project?  

We’ve seen so many people who, as they grow their projects,  their original motivation gets lost. Sometimes it becomes about building something, as opposed to like leaning into that seed within them that they cared so much about. How do we  nourish that seed of caring?

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your success and impact? 

Ariel Nessel: I think one of things I’ve learned from my business experience is that what gets measured gets done. So it’s really important, what we measure what we’re paying attention to.  For The Pollination Project we have how many grants we’ve given. We measure do they do what they set out to do? How many volunteer hours were provided in it? What do they write about how they were changed the process? Who was who was affected by their project? What percent of our dollars go to grant making versus overhead.?

The impact to be able to tell almost 5000 stories becomes really important to us. And even the stories that aren’t always a success.  It’s not like it’s only worthwhile celebrating if you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish. Our failures often lead to greater success down the road. What do our grantees learn in the process of their mistakes? This is what’s beautiful about the $1,000 grants, they’re small enough that we don’t get attached to every one of them working out. What do we learn from the ones that don’t work out? Where do those people who try it and “fail”, what do they learn from the process? 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Ariel Nessel:  I think the biggest dream I have is knowing that we played an enormous part in uprooting apathy around the world.  So that anyone who ever had their own dream of how they can use their unique knowledge to make the world a better place, does something about it.  So that these change makers knew that someone saw them, acknowledged them and was there to resource them. That there were so many grantees around the world that it wasn’t just us but that people copied us all around the world. So that philanthropy wasn’t just done by giant organizations, but there were innumerable smaller positions and individuals resourcing anyone who felt a similar calling.  I think that would be my dream.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Ariel Nessel:  So many lessons but asking what do I want for the world? And how can I be a person who helps manifest that? How do I live as an exemplar of what I wish for the world?  Because purpose is such a big part of my life, I’ve created this acronym on what to engage. The acronym is pursue.

P is for personal transformation. Where do I need to grow as a human being?  I started The Pollination Project where I wanted to grow and be able to see the best in others. I wanted to grow having a daily practice of generosity and feeling a deeper embodied sense of service.

The U is for unique.  Where am I uniquely positioned? What am I uniquely called to do?  I felt really called to support changemakers.

The R is for relationships. What are the relationships I have? Which ones do I get to spend more time with those people I really care about and want to learn from?

 The S is serendipity or synchronicity. What is life pushing me towards? What success are you manifesting without too much effort?  Where is there a sense of ease like a finesse that comes from things? 

The U is for understanding.

The E is for external transformation or efficacy. Asking, where can I have the greatest impact? So I try to integrate that with all these other parts of it. A big part of the worlds problem is apathy and indifference. One way to address that is to demonstrate that there are people who have moved beyond apathy.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Ariel Nessel: I think that all of the above has really changed and made this path so much more joyful for me. This is why a harvest approach seems more appropriate to me than the activists. There’s not an exhaustion when you’re just going where there’s flow. You don’t get tired. Rather, it’s a regenerative energy. There’s a joy to giving, to service and life.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 21: The Yellow Heart Committee

People say that youth is wasted on the young and never has that statement been less true than with this incredible nonprofit founder, N’dea Johnson. At only 24 years old she has undergone incredible personal loss and trauma and has used that to help others with her two-year-old nonprofit The Yellow Heart Committee.

Join us today to learn why you are never too young to make a difference and inspire others. Hear N’dea Johnson’s inspirational story of loss and perseverance as she works to heal and serve survivors of sexual assault and trauma.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Yellow Heart Committee does?

N’dea Johnson:  We support the holistic mental health of trauma survivors through policy, advocacy, education, and community outreach. How we do this through the pillars of HEART, which stand for Healing, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relationships in Therapy. So everything we do programming-wise has to fall under those pillars making sure we’re always centering the survivors. A big part of our work is communicating and advocating for survivors. We do that by working with elected officials to help draft legislation for trauma survivors.

Charity Matters: You are young for starting a nonprofit, were you always philanthropic?

N’dea Johnson:  I’ve always enjoyed doing work and volunteering in the community because of my mom. From a young age, she always was the one that was telling me, you have to support others, you always have to be good to others and always help people.  When I was a fifth grade, I was organizing students to get tutoring for the gate program and Star testing. I’ve also learned from her because she did have breast cancer.  Even with all that she was going through, she was always still caring and concerned about the community. And that’s something I replicated.

When my mom passed away, I ended up starting an organization in my middle school a few months after she died. I was in seventh grade and raising money for families with family members who have cancer. The whole point was to donate the money to help support anything that families were missing.  People were always surprised and say, “You’re 12 years old,  your mom just died and you’re doing this?”  That’s how my mom was when she was going through adversity herself. I’m going through it right now. And I know she wouldn’t want me just moping around. This work is how I handle my grieving is by turning it back into community service and doing things for others going forward.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Yellow Heart Committee?

N’dea Johnson:   It started on January 1, 2019, when I was sexually assaulted.  I actually had to go back to school, two days later, because it was winter quarter and I was graduating early from UCLA.  I’ve always been a 4.0 student always and this really destroyed me.  The irony is that I was trained in rape response because I was a Resident Assistant. Rather than letting myself heal, I tried to suppress it because I was so determined to graduate early, to go to Columbia for grad school. I kept it all to myself.

In March of 2019, I had pre-scheduled jaw surgery. I came out of jaw surgery paralyzed. The doctors were said, “How did you have jaw surgery, but your legs are paralyzed?”  Nobody knew what happened, even I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t talk because I had jaw surgery.  I  had to relearn all of my functions; eating, talking, walking everything. Then we realized I had experienced conversion disorder.

 Conversion disorders are when you convert the psychological stress of trauma into a physical reaction. So when I went in for surgery and went under anesthesia, my body thought I was being attacked again. As a result,  I ended up having nerve damage.  Being in a rehab facility in the hospital and that’s where it really made me want to start this.  I gave birth to the Yellow Heart Committee in a hospital bed. Once I could walk again, I knew the first thing I was going to do was report him at the police station.  At that time I hadn’t. The second thing I was going to do was start a nonprofit. So that’s where I really got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

N’dea Johnson:   It is so hard because I’m learning from the ground up. But I’m also learning how to be an adult in the same capacity. So things like you have to pay your taxes for like nonprofits. I’m like, “I don’t know how to do that?”  Those types of things I’m having to learn and becoming an adult while growing up.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

N’dea Johnson: The individual people one hundred percent. My nonprofit, everybody’s unpaid right now and we all have full-time jobs or are full-time students. We have our days where we have a really rough day at work. The team says,
” All right, what are we doing next? How we’re gonna solve this?” And it’s just knowing that  I can have those moments of vulnerability and say I need support. They have my back and they’re like, “Okay, so what do you need us to do to keep this nonprofit going? How can we support you?” Those individual people in terms of my team are what I love, and it feeds me to keep me going. That and the survivors who reach out to me in times of crisis.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and your impact? 

N’dea Johnson:  We’re the connectors definitely. We bring the people who are the decision-makers and the survivors to the table.  In six months, we met with 44 elected officials to advocate for our Sexual Domestic Violence Task Force Legislation that we wrote. We are introducing that to California and working to get a federal level hearing.  Our state-level hearing is in  September on mental health and trauma at the Capitol in California. We definitely bring those people who can make those decisions to the table to hear the stories of survivors.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

N’dea Johnson:  I would say my self-awareness has changed, I definitely think that I’m more conscious of not just my own experiences, but also how my words or my actions or anything can impact others. Something that’s really been a big thing of mine is that we may want to judge somebody right away. But let’s think about why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Let’s go deeper than the immediate reaction, and wonder what trauma happened for why did they react, right?

That’s not something that I would have been conscious of two years ago. And I think that I’m more in touch with who I am in terms of why I’m feeling a certain way. Or even how I need to react to a situation and to be more empathetic to people. It is important to realize what is the intent versus impact. The intention may not have been to hurt, but the impact may have hurt somebody. Being aware of those types of things has really been something that has made me grow and change.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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A rabbit hole with a message

Have you ever had an afternoon where you just can’t focus? After a week of our leadership camp, I found myself meandering on social media. My LinkedIn feed presented an article from a mutual connection I didn’t know. Before I knew it I had gone down a tech and time rabbit hole in search of more.

The initial hook was an article about a Subscription Box that teaches children to volunteer. You can see why I was instantly engaged? Of course, I now needed to know more about this person that shared more than a few mutual friends on LinkedIn.  Her name was Jessica Jackley and she is best known as the co-founder of Kiva.  The nonprofit micro-lending organization that literally changed the face of philanthropy as well as how we look at poverty.

Kiva lets users lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs, providing borrowers affordable capital to start or expand their business. Since its founding, Kiva has facilitated over $1.5B in loans worldwide. I knew her name sounded familiar…Before I knew it I was sucked into Jessica’s 2010 Ted Talk called, Poverty, money, and Love. You will be too because Jessica touches your soul in her authentic quest to make a difference.


For those of you not going down the rabbit hole with me, Jessica talked about three things near and dear to my heart. First,  entrepreneurs….hers are from third-world countries and mine are nonprofit founders but close enough. They are both people working hard to make life better for others. Second, the importance of community which is what all nonprofits build.  Lastly, we both agree that people are innately good. We all care and want to help but so often do not know-how. Ultimately, Jessica reminds us that it is a simple fact that caring gives us hope.

The next time you end up going down an unknown technological path, be open to what you may discover at the end of the journey. You never know what message is waiting for you.

Wishing you all a festive holiday weekend. Happy 4th of July!





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Charitable children a season of giving and lifetime of joy


“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I am always so amazed that is the same time each year that I find people asking me for suggestions for raising philanthropic children. As a result, I share this post once again as a refresher for all, holidays or not.

When my sons were younger I wondered if they were really understanding what we were doing as a family for others? We wanted to raise compassionate and charitable children, good humans. While my sons are far from the poster children for philanthropy. As young men, they certainly do a lot to help others. I am proud that each of them has found different ways to give back and share the gifts that they have been given. My oldest has a passion for serving inner-city children. His younger brother has recently gotten behind Movember and men’s health through his fraternity. The youngest is involved with a nonprofit, Once Upon a Room, that does hospital room makeovers for very sick and young patients.  He has helped bring a new chapter of the nonprofit to his college town of Fort Worth, Texas.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we sit down as a family and decide what our family will do this season to help others. We have adopted soldiers for a year, adopted families over the holidays that could not have Christmas, we have wrapped gifts at local Children’s’ Hospitals, and voted on which non-profits we want to support. Each person trying to convince the others why their cause is most worthy.

Where to begin?

The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question and that raising charitable children is an ongoing process. With 1.7 million charitable organizations in the world, where do you begin to find service opportunities for young children or even teenagers?

Families now have resources such as the nonprofit Project Giving Kids, which cultivates volunteer opportunities for young children and families. I read an article recently that said role modeling philanthropy is simply not enough. The article referenced a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. The director, Debra Mesch, said “the research showed that talking to children about giving increased by 20 percent the likelihood that children would give.”

Here are a few tips to remember as we approach the season of giving:

Six Tips for Raising charitable children:

  1. Start early, as early as 4 or 5 years old. Giving becomes a habit.
  2. Talk to your children about what causes interest them and bring causes to their attention.
  3. Be intentional by involving your children in your own charity endeavors.
  4. Use online tools to research organizations to involve your children
  5. Be consistent. Make charity a part of your traditions, the holidays, and birthdays.
  6. Emphasize the joy because giving feels great.

Benefits of raising charitable children:

  1. Opens children’s eyes to the fact that others are not as fortunate as they are
  2. Develops empathetic thinking
  3. Fosters an appreciation for what they have
  4. Enhances self-esteem
  5. Correlates to improved performance in school

While this topic is relevant for the holidays, it is important to remember that giving does not just happen once a year. Teaching the gifts you receive from giving should be a part of the year, not simply the season. Once your children feel how great it is to give, their lives will forever be altered in wonderful ways.

Charity Matters.


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Creating the Change

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”  Margaret Cho

Rather than focus on the election today, I wanted to focus on what makes me happy. Honestly, nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters.  Project​ ​Giving​ ​Kids​ ​(PGK)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​organization​  that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate service activities.  Their mottos is,“connecting kids to causes.”

 Project Giving Kids was initially launched ​in​ Boston in ​November​ ​2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children. Molly saw clearly that there was a need to leverage technology to make it easier for kids to​ ​be​ ​powerful​ ​agents​ ​of​ ​positive​ ​change​ ​in our​ ​world.​ ​

Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. Four years ago Project Giving Kids hosted their first Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Day​ ​. These days across the country provided a chance to come together as a community to help the amazing nonprofits in our own backyards. More importantly, Create The Change Days teach our children about the importance of service and the power we each have to make a difference.  There is nothing better than combining nonprofit partners and families wanting to instill empathy and kindness in their children. 

However, this year COVID put a damper on this annual tradition. PGK was committed to ensuring that Create the Change Day went on so they will be hosting Create the Change Week. An entire week of free virtual service opportunities for kids and teens. Next week from Saturday, November 7th until Saturday, November 14th  your children can volunteer and participate in amazing virtual service opportunities.

PGK will offer a series of free virtual service activities via Zoom tied to the eight causes on their website. Everything from helping isolated seniors to protecting the environment to helping other kids and fighting hunger.
They will also have a special Teen Track for older youth, so there really is something for everyone.

As Molly said, “We are hopeful we can catalyze a small army to commit themselves to join us in the simple acts of goodness that add up and truly make a difference”  Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Week ​is ​the​ ​perfect way​ ​to introduce young children to the joy of service to others.” 

With all the craziness happening in our world right now, doing something positive to help someone seems like a good idea. So register your children for Create the Change Week . 

As Margaret Cho said, “Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”

Charity Matters




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911 Day

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”



Today is September 11th. A day that none of us will ever forget. We all know where we were when we heard the tragic news. The pain we all felt and the helplessness.  While this date will always be a day tinged with sadness it has been deemed by Congress as a National Day of Service and Remembrance since 2009 because of two remarkable men.

The Back Story

Their names are David Paine and Jay Winuk. Two friends determined to ensure that this day is recognized not as a day of evil but as a day of good. Jay’s brother, Glenn, was an attorney in lower Manhatten, as well as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. Glenn lost his life on September 11th. Jay said, “Glenn did what he was trained to do. He had the skills and courage to run into the burning World Trade Center, towards danger, to save lives. Glenn always put others ahead of himself, and he sacrificed his life the way he lived it, helping others in need.”

The Action

In 2002, David and Jay set out to start a nonprofit called MyGoodDeed.org and reached out to the 9/11 community for support. Their goals were to establish a nationally recognized day of service and then build national support for 9/11 Day. Their long term mission was to ensure that 9/11 Day was transformed into a day of service and an enduring tribute for those who were lost and injured on 9/11.

The Result

Nine years after beginning their journey they accomplished their goal of having 9/11 Day recognized as a National Day of Service and remembrance.  Today, eleven years later, 9/11 Day is the nation’s largest annual day of charitable engagement with nearly 30 million Americans volunteering, support causes they care about and performing good deeds in tribute to those lives lost that day. MyGoodDeed became 9/11 Day.org, a nonprofit that supports this day and provides resources (like these in the video below )for ways to volunteer and serve.

Your Action

David said,“Ultimately we wanted something positive to come from the loss of so many innocent people in such a terrible way. We didn’t want terrorists to forever define how 9/11 would be remembered. We wanted to focus instead on how our nation came together, the spirit of unity and compassion shared by so many.” 

Jay said, “As a 9/11 family member, I wanted to find a very special and significant way to honor my late brother, along with the many others who died with him.”

 What good deed can you do today?

Charity Matters



Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Town & Country Philanthropy Summit

photo: via Town & Country

Last week I had the privilege of attending Town and Country’s Philanthropy summit. The 175-year-old magazine highlights amazing people who are doing great work in their July Philanthropy issue and then brings them together for inspiring conversations on giving, social issues and ways to get involved. Sound familiar? Historically, the event is held in New York City. This year due to COVID the event was online. It was so fantastic to listen to incredible conversations.  So I thought I would share a few of the highlights.

Day one: Darren Walker

This year’s line up began with a conversation between Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, and Ava DuVernay of the ARRAY Alliance. The two spoke about race relations in the United States and ways to support causes that can impact change.  Darren Walker said, “What philanthropy can do best is to support people whose ideas change the world. Philanthropy seeks out change-makers and ask how can we help you do that?” Darren Walker went onto say, “Philanthropy can change lives and society together.” 

Photo via: Town & Country

Day Two: Robert E. Smith

The second day was an interview with Robert E.Smith, the infamous billionaire who donated forty million dollars to the Morehouse College Class of 2019’s student loan debt.  Robert came from humble beginnings and amassed a five billion-dollar fortune.  He said,” My wealth is to be used to liberate the human spirit.”  Robert Smith is founding a nonprofit called the Student Freedom Initiative to launch in 2021. The mission is to fund eleven historically black colleges’ students in STEM opportunities for a flexible, lower-risk to high-interest private student loans.

Day three: Matthew & Camila McConaughey

Day three of the Philanthropy Summit was an inspirational conversation with actor Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila. The couple spoke about their nonprofit Just Keep Livin Foundation that they began in 2008. Since that time they have served over 3,500 high students teaching wellness, fitness, and social-emotional learning.

photo credit: Town & Country

McConaughey went onto say that he believes, “It is selfish to give but it feels good.” And when asked, where can you start with philanthropy his reply was, “ In the mirror. We are giving back to ourselves when we give-not giving up.”

photo via: Town & Country

I think the real highlight of the Philanthropy Summit was when a young student (pictured above) from the Just Keep Livin Foundation spoke about her time in the program and her lessons learned. She said, “Giving is the best way to receive.”





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Duet Team

A few weeks ago I had lunch with Abby Mandell, the Executive Director of USC Marshall School’s Social Enterprise Lab. It is a remarkable undergraduate and graduate program that challenges today’s brightest students to come up with innovative solutions that solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges. Abby told me about some of the inspirational ideas her students have accomplished and one of them resulted in the creation of a nonprofit organization called Duet.

Stephanie Van Sickel in Lesvos, Greece

A team of six students in a USC Viterbi School of Engineering course took on an assignment of how to use human-centered design to create a system or a product around understanding the refugee crisis between Syria and Europe, with the goal to help alleviate at least one facet of the very complex issues facing refugees. Last week I connected with two of the team Co-Founder Michael Cesar and the head of Business Development, Stephanie Van Sickel to learn more about what these incredible students have achieved and where they are going with Duet.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Duet does?

Michael Cesar: Through a class at USC, as a group of students we tried to create a new system of giving to tackles some of the older problems that have existed in philanthropy for awhile. We have created a new way of giving that is more transparent and more efficient. We did this to help Syrian refugees settling in Greece. We help rebuild their lives by giving them access to some of the key things that we all use every day such as basic necessities to things like a soccer ball that make you feel like yourself. We help them at the moment of resettlement to try to elevate them to a higher role of living.

Stephanie Van Sickel: All these people want to help and there are all these great organizations that let people help. The old model is the money goes to the organization and then items that people need are being shipped overseas or people donate on items that they assume are needed.

We are shifting that model by putting the power in the hands of the recipient. We enable refugees to go to the local store and decide what they need. When a donor decides they want to buy someone in our system diapers for example. The recipient goes to their local store and uses their duet credit to “purchase” the diaper size their child needs and as a result, they help the local economy and store owner’s business. There are two impacts here, it is not just for the refugees it is for the local community and economy.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how this class at USC works?

Stephanie Van Sickel: The class is about human-centered design and innovation in engineering for global grant challenges. It is an interdisciplinary course so graduate and undergraduate students and for a full year you are broken up into teams to find solutions to improve the lives of refugees. The class is partnered with the refugee camps and those situated outside the camps in Leptos, Greece.

Duet founders Rhys Richmond and Michael Cesar

Charity Matters: When you started this class did you think you were going to start a nonprofit?

Michael Cesar: No, initially but very quickly yes. We started believing quite early on that this was a real possibility. When I initially signed up for the class I thought I was going to probably drop it within the first few weeks.

Stephanie Van Sickel: I think we fell in love with the problem, not necessarily the solution. Then when you realize that you have the possibility to actually make a difference, you have to keep going forward.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Duet?

Michael Cesar: The first realization was when we visited the camps for the first time and quickly realized the inefficiency of current aid. We saw so much waste, we saw donations that came that didn’t fit or coats coming in the summer, we saw tons of toys donated but no one had underwear or children’s books in the wrong language. We were so frustrated because the outpouring of love was real and yet it wasn’t being funneled the correct way.

We saw the pain of the people being handed things. These refugees have been stripped of the choices they make from the clothes they are wearing, which were not their own and the lack of autonomy over their lives. We walked into a few local stores and asked if they would be interested in a system where refugees could shop and be a part of a new system of support for the refugees and the store owners were excited to be able to help and be a part of a solution.

Stephanie Van Sickel: We realized pretty quickly that locals were wary of nonprofits because since the refugee crisis began in 2015 so many organizations came and left. The store owners were trying to sell a good and then a nonprofit would come in with a million pieces of that item for refugees and the store owner couldn’t survive. So these store owners were cautious initially in trusting us but when we said that we wanted to work with them and the stores are a critical piece of the solution they were excited to partner with us.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Stephanie Van Sickel: We are asking people to look at philanthropy differently as opposed to an organization that tells you what you need. In this case, the refugees know best what they need and it is a shift as to how people look at giving and philanthropy. The refugee crisis is a big complicated issue so getting people to the starting line to understand what we do and why we do it and then going from there. We may feel small but we think big at Duet. Duet can really help people who are being rehoused or rehomed in many different opportunities whether it is because of a fire or coming out of homelessness, there are a lot of different opportunities to use the model we have built.

Michael Cesar: We are trying to focus on the way people think about giving. The challenge comes in shifting the power dynamic from the old model where the donor is the hero. To the new model where the donor is the supporter. It is a shift in belief systems.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Stephanie Van Sickel: For me, this is what I have decided to dedicate my life too. It’s why I came to get my MBA. This has been the work I have wanted to be in my entire life. Now knowing the faces on the other side and seeing the true impact of what we are doing. So now when its 1 am and I have one more thing to do, you just push through. This is bigger than you and that’s what helps to drive you.

Michael Cesar:  For me, I really, really want to fix the problem. I’m quite stubborn as a person. The idea that there is a problem that we have all seen that exists, that it could be fixed and that could radically change the way that love, generosity, and kindness is shared around the world, is sort of infuriating to me. The idea of chipping away at the roadblock is what I have become obsessed with. To let the kindness and humanity come out and to let people engage and remove the roadblock has been such a wonderful problem to try and fix.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Stephanie Van Sickel: I went back to Greece this past fall to meet with everyone and see how things were going, especially with our store partners. The stores said that the families thank us so much even though we are only part of this, someone else donated the diapers that they got to pick up from our store but we get thanked. The stores asked if we could have the duet families’ names and we asked why. They said that these Duet families who come in to get their things become friends and we would love to be able to make them feel more welcome when we see them by knowing their names. We didn’t set out to integrate the community but to see the shift in the way these two groups are referring to each other as neighbors and friends was so inspiring.

Michael Cesar: When a refugee picks up an item that has been donated at their local store we ask for a photo confirmation to make sure that our donors know that the item they paid for was received by the person they intended it for. What has been unexpected is that when the refugee is taking their picture to confirm they received the item, they ask that we send along with their photo with a thank you message to the donor who bought this item for them. It has been so touching and unexpected. 

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?

Stephanie Van Sickel: We like breaking our impact up into different buckets. We say that we have had 320 items put into the lives of refugees to rebuild their lives. Beyond that, we have moved $10,000 of direct profit into small family-owned businesses in towns impacted by the refugee crisis. We have almost 150 unique donors from all over the world.

Michael Cesar:  I think we have one story that best explains what happens when you let people maximize what they receive by letting them choose you can change their lives. We had one guy who was a single father and he only requested diapers for a very long time. We told him he could ask for other items and finally, months later he requested a $400 laptop, which was the highest request we had ever received. We asked why and he explained that he had 200,000 youtube followers in his homeland who watched his phone repair videos and if he could get a laptop he would be able to be paid again by youtube and could support his family. One of our donors bought him his laptop and he is now becoming self-sufficient caring for his child.

This is a group of talented resourceful hard working people and if you give them the basic tools they will succeed beyond your expectations.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Duet what would that be?

Michael Cesar: I would love the moment where thirty other organizations have adopted our model and the world has moved to this new way of giving. We don’t decide what people need and the receiver does. I would love if this went into other organizations, new nonprofits, even the United Nations could adopt this new mentality. I would love for this app to be something that makes us think about how we are treating those who we are trying to help.

Stephanie Van Sickel: I would like to see Duet grow and become a new philanthropic model being used all over the world and shifting the way people look at philanthropy.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Michael Cesar: My emotions are much closer to the surface now. 

Stephanie Van Sickel: Growing up I thought I wanted to be close to these issues. I got into development because I wanted to make an impact larger than myself. If I couldn’t give a million dollars at least I could raise it to make the impact and move the needle. Duet has opened up my eyes that I want to be closer to the problem and more boots on the ground to continue to make more of a human impact.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Stephanie Van Sickel: Being such a small team we realize that if we are not asking on social media the giving comes to a complete stop. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.

Michael Cesar: Dignity isn’t something you can never take away from someone. Everybody has it and it is far more important than I previously thought. You treat people with dignity and you respect the dignity that other people have. I have also learned the difference I can make in other people’s lives. 



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So many last…..

They said this would happen. Every adult I ever passed in the market with my three toddler sons, told me so. Yep, they all said,” Enjoy these days because they will be gone before you know it.” Now those days are these days and I realize that they were right, these days are done or almost. This next week, I will go to our second son’s college graduation and a few weeks after that I will attend our youngest son’s high school graduation and then it will be done. Three boys gone, poof in a flash.

I have watched as the stack of brown lunch bags dwindles down realizing I will never buy another pack, ever! We had our last mother son brunch recently and people kept saying aren’t you so sad. I lied, smiled and said, “No, I’m so happy for him and this next chapter.” I then went home and cried like a baby. We just attended our 11th and last pre-prom party, never to attend another. Parent night came and went at school and I didn’t go, in part because he is already going to college and truth be told I was afraid I would actually get emotional at one of the most boring nights of the year…simply because it was the last one ever.

Not only am I starting to mourn our youngest son but also the huge group of boys I have been privileged to have in my life and our home for the past decade, his amazing friends. They come into our house like locust and sometimes like a hurricane blowing in and out, like the force of nature they are as a pack. The thought of life without their laughter, joking and asking me what is to eat makes me tear up instantly. It’s as if the pain of our youngest son leaving is multiplied by 8 because each of those boys brings me such joy.

I have loved every minute of all of it. I know my hindsight is perfect. I have loved the empty pizza boxes, late-night phone calls for picks ups, the after-school feeding frenzies that leave my cupboards bare, the loud music and even the college process…ok I am totally lying, I really didn’t like that but I’m so damn nostalgic that somehow even that doesn’t seem as bad.

The next few weeks will be celebratory with Baccalaureates, graduation, graduation parties and fun to distract us all from the quiet and still house that is coming. These next short weeks of summer, the boys will head off to college orientation, see friends, pop in and out and then it will be time. Time to pack for school, time to send him out of state and in August and our twenty-four years of parenting will come to an end, in the physical sense. There will not be a child in our home.  I’m not sure what my life looks like without having a boy underfoot. I’m not sure I’m ready to even think about it.

So, instead, I will joyfully make these next few lunches. Pack for our second son’s college graduation, revel in each moment spent with my boys and realize that we have done a good job. They are ready for these next chapters in their lives but I’m not so sure I’m ready for mine.

Charity Matters


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Gifts that give

“The greatest gifts are not wrapped in paper but in love.”

Finding the perfect gift is never an easy task. So many of the people in my life really need for so little and so many need so much, so why not combine the two this holiday season? There are a variety of great ways to give back and give, it is like having two gifts in one….or a gift with purchase.  After moving a few years ago, it became clear that we did not need any more stuff and it seemed that many of my friends and family do not need it either. So how are we supposed to show the ones that we love with a meaningful gift? In my search I came across some thoughtful gift ideas that give back worth sharing.


Founder Jennifer Hillman combined her passion for philanthropy and high end luxury goods in one brilliant online stop to shop. LuxAnthropy is a place where you can find a fabulous bag, dress, accessory or the perfect gift and a percentage of every sale goes to a host of amazing nonprofit partners. On top of that, LuxAnthropy even gives an additional percentage to each cause. This is a win-win! Beautiful gifts that give back!

The Giving Keys

The Giving Keys began in 2008 when founder, Caitlyn Crosby, stayed in a hotel room that used real keys. The keys reminded her of each person’s uniqueness and she began having keys made with inspirational words such as DREAM, CREATE, or INSPIRE engraved on keys. Caitlyn began giving the keys away to anyone who needed to be inspired. The purpose is to embrace your key and your word and then to pay it forward and give your key to someone who needs that message. The Giving Keys is not a nonprofit but every product purchased supports job creation for individuals transitioning out of homelessness and to date The Giving Keys has provided over 146,318 hours of work and created over 70 jobs for those in need.

One Hope Wine

In 2007, Jake Kloberdanz  had an idea, 168 cases of wine and eight friends just out of college. No, it was not a party but the beginning of his company, OneHope that’s mission is to make the world a better place through every product they sell. OneHope‘s core product is wine but they have expanded their brand and their charitable donations along with it. Every product benefits a cause and to date OneHope has donated over one million meals to the cause Why Hunger, 65,000 diapers to help premature infants, planted 52,000 trees, provided clean drinking water and the list goes on.  OneHope has donated over $1.6 million dollars since its inception. Now that is a cause worth raising your glass for and a great gift that gives!



This year St. Jude’s has partnered with fantastic retailers such as William Sonoma, Home Goods,Brooks Brothers, Pottery Barn, Tumi Luggage, West Elm and Mark and Graham all with proceeds from certain items going to support cancer research and  the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital where parents do not receive a bill for any of their child’s medical care. To support St. Jude’s and shop 


The Public Supply Company makes beautiful suede,v elour and leather notebooks for the writer in your life. More than that their mission is to support creative work in our country’s public schools by channeling 25% of profits from every sale to a teacher in a high-need classroom who will use the money for a project that drives creativity. To find that thoughtful gift that gives back, visit Public-Supply Co. You will be happy you did!


This amazing organization has created their own lotto where everyone is a winner. Play LottoLove to win for someone in need. With the purchase of each scratch card, LottoLove donates to one of its nonprofit partners to support a different worthy cause.

For every card purchased LottoLove donates to their Non-profit partners to fulfill their social mission of helping people receive: clean water, solar light, nutritious meals or literacy tools. Each ‘Basic Needs’ card gives one of the following:
1 week of clean water
3 weeks of clean water
1 month of solar light
4 months of solar light
1 set of literacy tools
3 sets of literacy tools
To purchase these fantastic cards, which by the way make great stocking stuffers, check out Give Lotto Love 


Lastly, there is a great website called Gifts for Good where if there wasn’t anything above that fit your holiday list that this is the place for you. Gifts for Good’s mission is to change the way the world gifts. According to their site U.S. corporations spend over $60 billion every year on corporate gifts, but donate less than a third of that to charitable causes. If every corporation purchased gifts that gave back―without spending any more money―we could redirect an extra $60 billion a year to addressing our world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

To solve this Gifts for Good has an incredible catalog of gifts that all give back and just might be the final place to finish up your shopping.

Hoping that these suggestions are helpful in making this season of giving meaningful for all.



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Wow, you are impressive!

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”

Elizabeth Andrew

In these last dog days of summer the last thing we seem to be able to muster is any extra energy. The days are long and hot, the pace is slow and energy low. We have had a busy year and are feeling the need to recharge our batteries before our routine starts up again and the kids head back to school in a few short weeks. So now seems like as good as time as any to reflect on all the hard work we did this past year to serve others. Last month we discussed how much Americans gave to nonprofits (4 billion in case you missed it!) and this month we are looking at the results from a division of the US Labor Department called The Corporation for National Community Service, which conducted surveys on 60,000 households to ask the question who is volunteering in America?

Here are the answers….

It seems that the majority of our American volunteers are married white women aged 35 to 44, who are parents of children under the age of 18. This accounted for 28.9% of volunteers and the next age group of women was right behind at 28% of volunteers ages 45-54. The younger crowd did not seem as interested with only 18.4% of 20 to 24 year olds volunteering. 

Just how much time did we give? Well it seems that the average amount of time spent volunteering was 52 hours and most people worked for one or two causes. That is more than a full work week and a really impressive number! Lets hear it for the girls, they out volunteered the boys 27.8% vs. 21.8%! The boys numbers just keep climbing which is fantastic news for everyone!

Since we are breaking this all down it seems that race and education factor into the numbers as well. The races broke down like this; whites 26.4%, blacks 19.3%, Asians 17.9% and hispanics at 15.5% volunteering. When it comes to giving up your time it seems that the higher your education, the more time you give. Those with college degrees or higher education volunteered more than 10% than those without.

Lastly, where you live may have something to do with your volunteering.  43% of everyone in Utah volunteers time, which ranks them the number one state with Minnesota coming in second place and Louisiana in last place at 50th. However, those roles were reversed when it came down to top cities, the number one city was Minneapolis and Salt Lake came in at second place, so next year the competition is on!

Regardless of where you live, what your ethnic backround is or your education…over 62.6 million of you gave your time to help someone else last year and that is what really matters. People helping people, improving others lives and their own in the process….now that is impressive!

charity Matters



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